While the Kerala government’s move to set up 2000 public WiFi hotspots, and offer 300 MB of free Internet Access across the state is welcome, its approach of making government services and public content available outside of this data cap will be in violation of Net Neutrality, and the TRAI’s differential pricing rules. In the announcement (available here on the CM’s website, and copypasted below) says:

Access various e-Governance, m-governance services, public content available in the State Data Centres without any limit from the Hotspot locations.

Similar to Free Basics

Net Neutrality requires that those providing Internet access act as exchanges of data, and do not discriminate between users of the Internet: whether these users are corporate, individual or government. Remember that users are both consumers and creators of content. Thus, there should be no incentive provided by the entity provisioning access to the Internet in favour of a particular type or creator of content, even if these are government services. Remember that what Facebook was doing with Free Basics was giving access to a few select services for free, and like the Government of India is doing, it was selecting which services are to be made free.

Violation of TRAI’s order

TRAI’s Differential Pricing ruling (pdf), which states that “No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content”. This is clearly an instance of the tariff being different (in this case free) for “e-Governance, m-governance services, public content available in the State Data Centres”, beyond the 300 mb data consumption.

The question remains, of course, of whether the TRAI would act to ban such a service, which violates its order, since the service is being provisioned by a state government.

Goes against position taken by the LDF

The move goes against what the LDF had promised in its Assembly Election manifesto of 2016 (source: doc, point 167 on page 23. Hat tip: @anivar), that it would “Take a stand for Net Neutrality.”

What should the government of Kerala do?

Firstly, they should shelve the plan to make certain sites and services. Estimate how much, on an average, a user might use government websites on a daily basis, and increase the data limit beyond 300 MB per day for everyone. If they estimate that another 50 MB per day might be sufficient, increase the limit to 350 MB. Let users ration their Internet usage accordingly.

 

Statement on the Kerala CM’s website (source)

2000 free Internet Wi-Fi Hotspots across the state

Government of Kerala will establish 2000 public wifi hotspots across the state which will provide free internet services to the citizen and tourists. The hotspots locations are identified by the District Collectors which includes bus stands, tourist places, Parks, Public places, Jana Sevana Kendras, Govt. offices etc. The tenders for the selection of the Service providers are published by Kerala State IT Mission. The 14 districts are divided in to three regions and the works will be done in parallel across the districts, so that the works can be completed within 7 months after awarding the contract.

Benefits to the public

• Citizen can able to access 300 MB free internet per day from the Hotspots using their smart phones, mobile devices or Laptops and perform social and business activities.
• Access various e-Governance, m-governance services, public content available in the State Data Centres without any limit from the Hotspot locations.
• Tourists can avail information on the major destinations, hotels, ticket and travel bookings using the hotspot services.

The citizens can easily connect with common service centers, government offices, government services, websites, on line payment modes etc on a faster and economic mode.

Kerala State IT Mission is looking forward with great hopes and enthusiasm for the successful implementation of the project for the well being of the citizens of the state.